My favorite music group ever is a band called King’s X. Their particular blend of progressive rock and soulful gospel is one reason I’ve always loved them. But I think the chief reason is that they’ve always written lyrics which spoke to me—in fact, I always thought their lyrics offered insight and questions about being human that I found undeniably true. And, as I’ve grown, I’ve never outgrown their words. The more I’ve learned, the more I have gone back to those old albums and thought, “these guys were really on to something.” I don’t know if I am making sense.
On their third album Faith, Hope, Love, they included a song called “The Fine Art of Friendship.” Below are just a few of the lyrics from the chorus:
The fine art of friendship
Meaning of love
Friendship is an art. It is the art of understanding and growing up, growing old, together. It is about being completely vulnerable to one another in a relationship built on peace and truth. And it’s not the kind of sentimental “peace” so often demonstrated in unhealthy relationships—where conflict is ignored in order to maintain status quo. The peace in these kinds of friendships is the kind unafraid to face conflict together because the relationship is built on mutual love, and the desire to understand one another—to build one another up.
A healthy relationship, just like a marriage, is predicated on the ability of the participants to learn to enjoy one another for who they are without desiring to change one another. It is founded, of course, on common interests, but doesn’t find differences threatening because each approaches the other with humility, recognizing the image of God in the other. As Bonhoeffer said, “The image that Jesus has impressed upon all of us.”
Recently, I’ve had opportunity to rediscover the truth of the song. I’ve been blessed through my life with many friends. Many of whom are still my good friends and still keep in contact with me. And I’ve had many experiences with them, different experiences with different ones—and each has a tendency to represent a different period of my life.
Some of my friends I’ve grown apart from. Our relationship changed and we’ve moved on to other things, making us just acquaintances.
Others, however, have remained close even though time and distance have separated us. These are the friends who, although not seen or communicated with in months, even years, as soon as the phone is picked up we are right back where we left off.
This past weekend, Vangie and I worked at a conference in St. Louis for a publishing company she contracts for. It was the perfect opportunity to visit some close friends in Missouri whom I had not seen in years. Paul and Faith are the most special kind of friends to me. They have been with me (and I with them) through some of the most difficult and discouraging times. They were a constant support to me during my divorce. We have seen each other through some pretty dark places.
Friendship is the practice of peace with one another.
However, that is not what makes the relationship so special. Our relationship is special because it is built on a foundation of our understanding of and commitment to the gospel of Jesus. We have in common a core understanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do—to bring peace between God and people and between people and people. And what I’ve discovered is that this common commitment has enabled our friendship to transcend differences in age, culture, background, language, gender, and even the distance between us. Even my wife, who had never met Paul and Faith, found it natural to fall into our weekend conversation. And a weekend conversation it was!
8:30 pm on Friday—arrived at the house
8:30-12:30 am Saturday—we talked
12:30-9:00 am Saturday—we slept
9:00-11:30 am Saturday—we ate breakfast (and talked)
11:30-12:00 pm Saturday—we drove to meet Scott and Ana for lunch
12:00-3:00 pm Saturday—the six of us ate and talked
3:00-5:30 pm Saturday—we visited the campus where I used to work and talked
5:30-8:30 pm Saturday—we ate dinner and talked
8:30-11:00 pm Saturday—we talked
11:00-7:00 am Sunday—we slept
7:00-8:45 am Sunday—breakfast and conversation
9:00-10:30 am Sunday—church!
10:30—Vangie and I left for home
What is there to spend that much time talking about? If I had to make a list of things to talk about, I don’t think I could. Our conversation was natural. It moved as we thought about things. We listened to one another and shared thoughts on the things we think about.
That common commitment is able to transcend our differences because we recognize that the God we worship transcends our differences and that the other, who is not me, is created in God’s image just like me. Therefore, I have much to learn from the other’s perspective. Vangie, whose experiences were as different from Paul’s and Faiths and mine as mine are from Paul’s and Faith’s, was able to contribute her insights and thoughts. Her perspectives only added to our conversation and we all grew more from sharing with one another.
The only way I can describe this relationship is peace. Friendship is the practice of peace with one another. And, just as I think that our rejection of violence (along with all of the kingdom imperatives Jesus gave us) does not imply that we have the ability to end war but is really a witness to the fact that Jesus has ended war and this will be realized in the resurrection, I think that the practice of peace in our relationships is a sign of what will be in the resurrection. I think that what Vangie and I experienced this weekend is what awaits us in forever—healthy love for one another which is founded on the love of God.
Our time with Paul and Faith, and with Scott and Ana, and with the others we could only visit with for a moment (Lloyd, David), spoke volumes to me about the kind of kingdom Jesus envisioned. It is a kingdom of love and peace where the people of this kingdom can be who they are in Christ and can love and enjoy one another and can grow in themselves and in one another and in Christ because Christ is in them and through them and because his peace is the guiding principle in their lives. Gone will be ambition, power, greed, worry, and strife. What will be is love and kindness, the attitude of mutual submission. What will be is laughter and smiles and gratitude and hospitality and good food and good talk. We will be what we were created to be—partners with God in speaking into his creation, speaking into one another what is true and noble and beautiful.
What will be is the joy we find in the fine art of friendship that God has created us for and that he is about.